The $9.5 million acquisition of the Hickory Lake Apartment complex on Old Concord Road near Windy Hill Road, which was made available for redevelopment in 2011, was the right decision, even if no one invests in the property, Bacon said in this year’s State of the City Address.
“We’re hoping that’s going to be developed real soon,” he said. “But even if it doesn’t, it’s a better place over there now than what it was — a lot of crime and a lot of bad people, not necessarily who lived there, but came through there — and we’re happy that it’s not there anymore.”
The city is looking for a commercial or residential developer for the 48-acre site.
Nicole Faulk, Georgia Power’s metro Atlanta west region manager, said a company economic development team has been assisting Smyrna in marketing the property, as well as others such as Belmont Hills.
“For us, it’s all about bringing business,” Faulk said after the speech. “We’re just trying to help them be able to sell.”
While a new, 900-student elementary school is set to open in August 2013 at Belmont Hills on Atlanta Road at Windy Hill Road, a portion of the vacant site will become a park, Bacon said. He said plans for two other parcels facing Atlanta Road will be announced soon.
“We’re really excited and encouraged that you’re going to have a domino effect on whatever else goes up there,” Bacon said during the lively speech.
Following the speech, Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz said Doraville-based developer Halpern Enterprises has found a partner to continue with 2008 plans for a mixed-used development at the former Belmont Hills Shopping Center location. She said an official announcement is expected in August.
Other projects touted in Bacon’s presentation include last January’s opening of a 93,000-square-foot Kroger in the Crossings Shopping
Center on South Cobb Drive at Concord Road; a 6,000-square-foot RaceTrac on the East-West Connector in April, with plans for another one on Spring Road this fall; and the Galleria Manor of Smyrna senior community off Spring Road that opened last August.
According to the city, officials have reached out to 91 companies in recruitment efforts, sent out 272 letters as part of new business outreach, and conducted 51 business retention visits in 2012. On the housing end, the city reported that home sales increased from 223 new units sold in 2010 to 238 units in 2011, stopping a three-year decline.
However, the city is grappling with a foreclosure problem like much of the county. There are 1,178 homes in Cobb County scheduled to be auctioned off in August.
“Property taxes have gone down, and … a lot of it is foreclosures,” Bacon said. “It’s still a tough time … but we think it’s getting better.”
Current property taxes, which constitute 40 percent of Smyrna’s budget, total $15.4 million. The Smyrna City Council recently passed a 2013 fiscal year budget totaling $74.3 million. Still, the city’s property tax rate of 8.99 mills, which Bacon touted, has remained unchanged since 2007.
The mayor said the city will spend up to $6 million in SPLOST funds over the next two to three years improving its infrastructure, including storm sewer and water/sanitary sewer projects, which he said is critical to attracting new businesses.
Other upcoming SPLOST projects include improvements to the city’s public safety building and recycling center.
Upcoming SPLOST transportation projects include construction of a landscaped median and multi-use trail on Concord Road; a two-lane connector road on Belmont Hills Road; changing Ward Street and Village Parkway from four- to two-lane roads; and replacing the culvert below Reed Road near North Cooper Lake Road.
Those projects are scheduled to be completed by July 2016.
Improvements to Concord Road, Atlanta Road, South Cobb Drive and Windy Hill Road, as well as the Concord Road Trail and Spring Road Trail, are ongoing, according to the city.
Bacon also announced that the city had acquired a $1 million collection of Civil War memorabilia from the late Gerald Cox and is preparing to make it public at various city locations, including Brawner Hall and Smyrna Community Center.
Having achieved Cobb’s second highest population among cities in the last U.S. Census, with just over 51,000 residents from 40,999 residents in 2000, Smyrna has become a draw for residents relocating from Marietta and Vinings, said Bacon, who was first elected in 1985.
“We have the most diverse community I think of any community anywhere,” he said. “Twenty years ago, I told folks that if they weren’t ready for change, they could get ready for change or leave, because there’s going to be change.”
Bacon’s speech was part of a joint meeting of the Smyrna Business Association and Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Smyrna Area Council at the Smyrna Community Center.